15 May Creating HOPE out of a Tragic Loss
I was parked outside a local Arizona diner with my 9 and 10-year-old daughters in the back seat. We were stopping for breakfast before embarking on a 4-hour drive to visit their dad, Rod, at a residential treatment center. I dreaded that moment, the moment I would fumble with my words to tell them we were going to visit their dad, because he was sick. I tried to explain that it wasn’t a regular hospital, and that dad was not stuck in a bed. I told them that sometimes people get sick from drinking too much alcohol or using drugs, and Daddy would be getting help. The conversation was brief, and I was sick to my stomach, at a loss for what language to use to communicate such adult issues that are often riddled with so much shame. I wanted to be honest with them, but age appropriate. I just didn’t know how.
After stumbling through my explanation, my daughter asked a question, “Is this because Daddy smokes cigarettes?”
To this day I am not sure of my answer; I only remember being washed over with the heat of shame and embarrassment, and pangs of anger at my husband for putting me in this position. As I attempted to compose myself, my 9-year-old rescued me from the struggle by adding, “Okay, can we get pancakes now?”
After breakfast, I drove for 4 hours in a mostly silent car, grateful for the portable movie player that entertained my daughters. I wondered how much they really understood, and a way to continue the conversation in a way that would help us all understand each other in this moment. When we visited the center for the day, my children and I met other families, other children who were visiting too, and we were introduced to the staff of the children’s program. We toured their children’s facilities and saw kids laughing and having a good time. It was then that I agreed to let my children participate in a program offered for kids ages 7-12. And a week or two late we returned to participate in a 4-day workshop for children growing up with a family member struggling with addiction.
I stewed over my decision to enroll my daughters in the children’s program, I still believed that before the pancake-day conversation, my children had no idea about my husband’s cocaine and alcohol addiction. I wondered if the information they would learn would be damaging to them, after all what should 10-year-olds know about addiction? I did not want to give them too much information, and was afraid that they would hate their dad.
During the course of the program, we all grew closer as we gained skills to communicate about the challenges we faced. I learned how to talk to my children about their experiences and their feelings. I realized that my children knew far more than I thought about what was happening in our home, but lacked the vocabulary and framework to express themselves in a healthy way. Their understanding was illustrated in the form of their dad’s absence at little league games, and his propensity for sleeping on the sofa for hours in he middle of the day. They knew there was a problem, but no one was talking about it. They were relieved when they were given the information and allowed to share their experiences. It was evident to me that they were affected, but also that they were so willing to forgive Daddy and have him be well again.
The program offered all of us a new language to talk about the disease, its effects, and the importance of each of us taking care of ourselves. The language and ability of separating the disease from their dad was critical, as this distinction allowed them to love him, yet be angry when the disease was in control. I was careful to explain that their father’s disease was not their fault, and it was not their responsibility to fix him. We practiced self-care activities and talked about setting healthy boundaries. I surrounded them with safe people with whom they could talk to, and I reminded them that these were other kids who had parents with the same disease of addiction. I encouraged them to share their feelings and validated what they shared. This was all I could do to help them through our experiences, and I am grateful that there were professionals who taught me these skills in the children’s program.
Everything we learned in the children’s program served us well as the years followed on a pathway marked with recovery, relapse, and the eventual tragic death of their dad to the disease of addition. His was a great loss for all of us, but we understood the power of the disease and used the tools acquired in the weekend program to cope and persevere. When Rod died, the girls and I vowed to use our experiences to help other families, and thus began the dream for PITCH 4 KIDZ. PITCH 4 KIDZ is our gift that was born out of our family decision to not hide in shame and secrecy, and use our voices to share with others what we have learned on this journey.
Rod will live forever in our hearts, forever in our family, as will the gifts we learned of how to battle the disease of addiction that took him from us.
To read articles or watch videos about our story, and the PITCH 4 KIDZ program, please see the Media Section of our website.
Stacey Beck, MC LAC LASAC
Executive Director, PITCH 4 KIDZ
Wife of former Major League Baseball Pitcher, Rod Beck